Food intake for the day consisted only of Honey Lemon Green Tea, Paxil, Aspirins, water, Vitamins, Aspirin, and eventually a Po' Boy Ghetto Casserole I concocted with random staple items from the far-flung depths of my nearly empty kitchen cupboards (baked beans, shredded cheese, hot sauce, various spices and seasonings, baked in a glass dish at 350 degrees for about 45 minutes; shut up. It wasn't that bad).
What put me in this dire, yet all to familiar state of disrepair? Why did I feel like I sucked on ash and sand and cat hair? Where did Sunday night's booze-up occur?
Yes, friends, after a Vodka and 7-Up (with lemon), I made another trek to The (neighborhood) Ho. Again bored, buzzed, and restless, I succumbed to her cheap siren call.
It's freezing outside, and my Doc Martens slip on patches of ice as I make my way down the street, nodding once to two Mexicans working on a truck engine. I sit down at the bar, am greeted warmly by Linda, and served a $1 (yes, that's one dollar) draft beer. There is only one other guy in the bar (I later learn this is Larry, the other night bartender) sipping a draft and working on paperwork. Looking up at the TV, I see I'm just in-time to witness the beating of my second favorite team 10-34 on ESPN (last week granted me a grimacing trouncing of my first favorite team).
The Ho is where you go to watch dreams die, if you even have any dreams still alive.
Bad luck in a bad luck bar.
Linda's on her cell phone, so I sip my beer and look around the place. Old T-shirts hang above the door, the place used to be called "J.J. Hoburn's" or something. Exposed vent shaft along the ceiling on the outside wall pumps in heat, an American flag waving in the wind. Christmas stockings with names of The Regulars (Sal, Carlos, Terry, Gibble etc.) and Linda's daughters hang along the back of the bar and behind me. The polished wood bar is smooth under my hands, it's grain grinning up at me: "just refinished last month." Sports posters (Cubs and Bears) everywhere. Dark brown metal-tiled ceiling reminds me of Tony's, in a sad way. And a Christmas Tree, brightly lit up, on the table by the ladies' room door.
Linda gets off the phone with Blair, her boyfriend (that cracks me up), and gets me another beer. A younger thin Hispanic guy shows up and walks to the far end of the bar to play some video bar game with Linda, the warped floor raises and lowers my barstool as he passes. After a time and a beer, he and Larry talk about the latest in the bar's Football Pool "never bet against The Bears, I told him again and again, man, never bet against The Bears. He lost a bundle." He leaves.
Linda and I talk, mainly about her kids. They either graduated from or are still at ETHS. She says it ain't the same as when she went. "My baby girl got jumped by some fuckin' gang-bangers last week. Shit, I knew who they were, and I called their momma right up."
I know practically nothing about ETHS, except this guy went there, and that he hated it. Called it a prison. She didn't know him. He's probably much younger than her. "It ain't like when we went there. They got detectives and cops roaming the halls and metal detectors and shit."
She gets me another beer, then Blair calls her again. She stares out the front window past the neon sign at the street, "I love you too, baby."
Larry tells me The Ho's been around since Prohibition, but he's only worked here about three years (ha ha). He used to be in advertising, but now he bartends here. He's got a daughter who's seriously into her studies at Indiana University and a son ("considering criminal law or something") at University of Michigan. He's proud of them, they're good kids. He heads for home.
A couple of beers have past, and I hear Linda tell Blair it's a slow night, and she thinks she may close up at one tonight. I order shot of Jameson and a (final) draft, thinking the night is coming to a close; and, besides, things are starting to swim a little, speed up.
Bits of Ho Knowledge:
The other bartenders steal tips from Linda.
There is a wicked-looking baseball bat behind the bar, and Linda has come close to using it.
No one has been murdered in the bar.
If you are a minority, Linda will give you change (quarters changed into dollars) (like the two black guys that came in at one point), but Larry and the Owner won't.
The Owner and the other bartenders "switch off" the pay phone if minorities try to use it without ordering.
Larry will jack up the prices on newbies and pocket the overage, so check out the price listing behind the bar on yellowed paper to the left of the whiskey shelf.
The jukebox is mainly country music, except for this this Fuck-Yeah! albumI so love.
You can run a monthly tab.
* * *
Then Linda tells me a sad story.
One night this chick comes in alone, sits at the bar, and buys a beer. Soon, Larry is buying her drinks. A Mexican guy comes in and sits with her, buying her drinks. A little bit later, an Indian guy comes in, also starts buying her drinks. As the night progresses, this chick is wasted, making out with the Mexican for a bit, then hits the bathroom, comes back and makes out with the Indian guy. Linda pulls the bat out when the Mexican starts finger-banging her at the bar. "You don't pull that shit in here, get out, get a room." The Mexican guy leaves. The Indian dude and chick make out for a bit, pay the tab and take off. Sometime later (that night, next day, next week?). The Indian dude shows up, "Linda, if anyone asks, I was never here."
The guy lives around the corner. He had "found" the woman in his stairwell at four in the morning naked and bleeding. She "might" have been raped, but he didn't do anything.
"I don't lie for no one like that, mutha fucker." The bat comes out, "If the cops come here, I'm tricking on you fast! Found her? Shit. How'd she get in your building in the first place? Fuck you, get out!"
* * *
The door opens, and a tall, bearded white guy walks in (Steve). He starts talking to Linda immediately about how he messed up the Football Pool. He'd picked 15 for 15, but never had a chance to place his bet. "15 for 15! Oh, man, I messed up this week missing that bet." And his voice is like a balloon. He fills the room with his booming voice, not un-friendly, just loud and constant. Soon, I'm clawing against the edges of the balloon, stuck in my seat.
"I'm working on this statue, this sculpture for this guy, about 19 inches tall, got the shape worked out, but having trouble finishing off the hands, he wants a gun in one hand and the other hand is flipping the bird, gun in this hand, middle finger up in the other, about this tall, it's the main character in that horror movie, gruesome thing, haven't watched it yet, gotta borrow a DVD player to see the thing, really get a better idea about the character, supposed to be a blood-bath...."
Steve makes 12" to 20" sculptures of various things, and he owns 3 of his own electric kilns. Sells at art shows and such.
Somewhere in the night, Steve leaves for a what feels like a nano-second and returns with his brother Terry. I get a free beer and a free shot of Jameson on Linda. I insist she drink one with me, so she cracks a Corona with Lime and salt: Cheers! Steve drops 3 thin photo albums in front of me. They're his portfolios of his work. They were pretty good. I looked at one and exclaimed, "this one is perfect for S.R.!" It was a little Mr. Burns twiddling his fingers, the word "Excellent" carved into the base. S.R. loves The Simpsons. I asked how much for this one, but Steve said it'd already been sold, and seemed to brush off my inquiries as to pricing.
"You smoke, Mac?" Linda asks.
"You a narc, Mac?" she asks, laughing.
Her and Steve "go for a quick walk" while I attempt small talk with Terry who is very quiet. He stutters, and I am sad to admit I remember nothing of our attempted conversation. I think he's an accountant? Something like that. I look at the photos again.
Linda and Steve return, a blast of cold smell with a trace of weed. She turns on the ceiling fan, and starts to restock the coolers. I ask if she needs help, but no, "it's been a slow night."
Terry orders a beer, and Linda pulls the wrong one, so suddenly I'm drinking a bottled Miller High Life. Linda turns on a small radio mounted behind the bar. Willie Nelson's "You Were Always On My Mind" comes on, and Terry starts singing along; his stutter is gone, and there's a sad, faraway look in his eyes. I sit quietly, affected by this moment. The song ends.
"That was pretty nice, Terry."
Halfway through the bottle, and we're all saying good-byes and heading out into the night; the bottle in my pocket. The cold slaps us in the faces, so good-byes are brief and exchanged as we walk different directions: Steve and Terry to the south, Linda to the west and me to the east.
I imagine the beer freezing into a yellowish popsicle in my pocket.
It's freezing outside, and my Doc Martens slip on patches of ice as I head down the street, nodding to no one.